Eminönu: Old Istanbul Part 1 of 3

There's something for everyone in Eminönu! This vibrant section of Istanbul is rich with history, cuisine, shopping, and entertainment. The streets are bustling with merchants, shoppers and tourists. We have spent a good deal of time in the "Old City" and have seen some amazing sights. Here is a breakdown of our adventures:

The New Mosque

After taking the ferry over from the Asian side of Istanbul, we arrived at Eminönu on the European side. Immediately after climbing the steps from the ferry station, we saw a beautiful mosque called Yeni Cami ("New Mosque"). The area around the mosque is crowded with people, vendor stands... and pigeons. Children buy bird seed from vendors and happily chase the pigeons around. It's a pretty cute sight, until you have to walk through the cloud of flying birds (especially for someone who has a mild phobia of birds!). Apparently the Turks believe that it is good luck to have a pigeon poop on you. We don't know where this belief comes from, but we have decided we don't need that much luck.

Before entering Yeni Cami, we sat on the steps and watched people at the wudu. This is the area where people wash their face, arms, hands, and feet before they cross the threshold of the mosque. Cleanliness is an essential part of Muslim prayer rituals. We made sure we were properly covered and removed our shoes before going in. I (Amanda) was given a head scarf (leopard print!) to cover my head with. I still need to learn how to wrap it properly, but I managed. We sat in silence in the mosque and watched people kneel down in worship. There was something very calming and serene about being in the mosque; it was a very soothing feeling.


Inside the New Mosque

                                                                                                                                                                          Our feelings of peace quickly disappeared after exiting the mosque and making our way to the Spice Bazaar. This bazaar may be smaller than the renowned Grand Bazaar, but it is just as crowded. People flock here to savour in the aroma of spices, teas, dried fruits, lentils, meats, and, most importantly, Turkish Delight. I was skeptical about this Turkish treat, as I had tried the Canadian version at home and was not impressed. But we were given a free sample at "Aladdin's" shop, so we took it. The verdict... AWESOME! The Western version of Turkish Delight is jelly-like with a strong fruit taste. Authentic lokum (Turkish Delight) is made in different ways, but is less like candy and more like... heaven. We sampled several different varieties, including pomegranate, walnut, and our favourite, honey and pistachio. We bought a small stick of lokum (which didn't last long) and a bag of apple tea (which is delicious when served at a restaurant, but we can't figure out how to make it taste as good, even with our special Turkish tea pot -- a double-decker tea pot).

We walked around the Spice Bazaar a bit more, both amazed and amused at the variety of herbs and "potions". We saw all sorts of odd things at the bazaar, including supposed aphrodisiacs, love tea potions, and "Sultan's Paste" (Turkish Viagara). Saffron (which has the repuation here as the grandaddy of all spices) is also abundant and supposedly delicious here. The merchant at Aladdin's described the difference in quality of his saffron by pointing to one kind and saying, "This one is the best. You buy this for your mother." He then pointed to a second option and said, "This one... this one is ok. You buy this for your mother-in-law." Pretty funny.

When we left the Spice Bazaar we decided to wrap up our afternoon with a cold beer under the Galata Bridge. The area under the bridge is lined with restaurants (and very talented, persuasive waiters who can say "lady/man, yes please enter" in many different languages). We chose a restaurant and ordered a drink, gazed out into the Bosphorus, and watched the fishermen's poles hanging down from above the bridge. (Our friend Chris was beaned in the head with a weight from the fishing pole shortly after... but that's another story.) It was a great way to end our first afternoon spent in Eminönu!

"Yeah, I'm goin' to Taksim"

Taksim is one of our favourite new places. "We've been talkin' 'bout Taksim, ever since the fire went out." (For those of you who aren't familiar with Johnny Cash, the quotes are references to his song "Jackson".) Old cobblestone streets and architecture paired with modern shops create a unique vibe in this popular neighbourhood. We have spent a couple of days wandering the streets, perusing the shops, and eating the local specialties. Here are the highlights of our Taksim adventures:

***NOTE: You can click on the pictures to get a closer look at them!***

1)  Here Fishy, Fishy: After wandering the streets on our first trip to Taksim, we decided to stop for lunch in "Balik Pazari" (the "Fish Market" district). This district is full of fishmongers and seafood restaurants. We found a restaurant that we thought looked appealing, and sat down to our first fresh fish meal in Turkey. After examining the menu, we decided to each try a different kind of fish so that we could share our lunch. The restaurant had a deal with the fishmonger across the street. The restaurant buys all of their fish from the stand across from them, so you can actually pick your fish from them before you order. The prices looked reasonable at about $15 per serving of fish. The waiter brought over a large red snapper, so we decided to share one fish (instead of ordering two) and order a calamari appetizer. The calamari was delicious, the snapper was quite plain, but good. The waiter took the liberty of ordering apple tea for us, which we loved. The big surprise was the bill... it was not $15 per ORDER of fish, but $15 per 100 GRAMS of fish. We ended up having a $75 lunch - definitely the most expensive lunch we have ever had! It was a mistake that we will surely not repeat, but it was a treat and an experience that had us laughing later that night.

Denny in front of Bakil Pazari

Our lunch selection

2) Stretchy Ice-Cream: This is something that we had been very curious about. Turkish ice-cream ("dondurma") is... different. Denny loves it. Amanda is undecided. It contains thickening agents called "salep", a flour made from the root of the Early Purple Orchid, and "mastic", a resin, making it thick, stretchy, and a little chewy. The dondurma stands are very entertaining, with men doing tricks with the ice-cream to attract tourists. We walked right into the tourist trap; the man tricked Denny into buying a cone by using him as a prop in his show, getting him to take a bite of the ice-cream cone, and then charging him for it. It was all in good fun, though.

Dondurma tourist trap. Look at the stretchy ice-cream!
3) Hello Kitty!: There are cats everywhere in Turkey! Cats run wild in the streets. They are cared for by shop keepers, who leave food out for them. Many of these cats have the same colourings and markings as Hero. On more than one occasion, Amanda has fought the urge to take one home but Denny has always stopped her. Place your bets now - will we come home with one or two cats? haha

Hanging Out

The one who ALMOST came home with us.

4) Galata Tower: While we were walking the streets of Taksim we happened upon an interesting looking tower. We soon learned that this tower is one of the oldest towers in the world; it was first built in the year 528. It has been repaired several times and was restored to its original appearance from 1964-1967. The 360 degree view from the outdoor observation deck at the top of the tower offered an amazing view of the Golden Horn (river), Galata Bridge, and the "Old City" across the river. In the 1600s an Ottoman legend named Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi constructed artificial wings and actually flew from the top of the tower across the Bosphorus Strait to the slopes of Uskudar nearly 6 kilometers away! The Galata Tower offers dinner and cabaret with Turkish folk dance and belly dancers in the evenings, so we are planning another trip in the near future. Here are some pictures of the sights we saw from the top of the Galata Tower.

The Galata Tower

Denny and Amanda at the top of Galata Tower


Panoramic View from Left to Right: Topkapı Palace, the
Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque,
the New Mosque (below - by the bridge)

The Galata Bridge

The Wings

We hope you enjoyed learning about our adventures in Taksim. We are just scratching the surface of what there is to see in Istanbul!

Townhouse Tour

So how about a tour of our townhouse? Let's go:

        Here is the front of our house

       and this the back entrance.

       This is our living room       

          and dining room.

           This is our kitchen.

These are our stairs and what we have dubbed "the man bathroom".

Here we have our upstairs bathroom.

This is Hero's room                                                                  
  This is Denny's dressing room/the spare room

            and his closets in the spare room.
    These are Amanda's closets in the bedroom.

                            Here is our bed                                                                                                             

                    and our wonderful fans!

That's all for today folks. Thanks for coming. Next: Day Trips into Istanbul!

Turkey "Firsts"

After a looong flight (10 hours) we finally made it! The flight was smooth (Hero slept through the whole thing, opening her eyes just as we were landing) and all 7 (yes, 7) of our bags arrived without any problems.

We arrived at Koç School by 8:30 and were welcomed with a Turkish dinner at the Social Center. We were then taken to our lojman. Our lojman (townhouse) is huge, with a kitchen, living room, dining room, 2 bathrooms and 3 bedrooms! We have an outdoor patio area and a balcony. Our frıdge was stocked with food to get us through the first few days (with GIANT peaches!). We are steps away from the Social Center (the teacher hangout and bar) and bus stop, which is very handy (and a little dangerous)! There are service buses that run several times a week to various hotspots in an around the city. So far we have experienced many shopping trips to places like Ikea, grocery stores and mini-malls. We have purchased the "necessities"... pots, pans, a water cooler, hangers, cleaning products, a tea pot/kettle (an odd Turkish model), plates, cups, an iron etc. We also managed to find Heinz ketchup, mustard, tobasco sauce, rice noodles, etc. at the grocery store. And of course, we managed to find cases of Efes, a delicious Turkish beer that comes in 17 oz. bottles! Alcohol is sold in grocery stores, which we greatly appreciate :)

Our days have been intense - long hours of orientation followed by trips into the city, but life is good so far. Denny had a lot of trouble sleeping at first. He would often wake up at 5:00 am, while I slept until 7:15. The trips to the city have been fantastic, as people can sometimes feel a bit secluded on the campus. The campus itself is about 10-15 minutes away from the nearest city, and about 30 minutes away from Istanbul if traffic is cooperative. On Friday, we went to Bağ dat street, which was full of lovely shops and restaurants. We had dinner with our new group of friends and felt very refreshed to just relax and enjoy what the city has to offer. The new foreign teachers group is very tight-knit, and the experienced teachers are extremely welcoming and helpful. We have made some great friends here so far!

Along with new experiences, we have had quite a few "surprises", including...

* Planes flying through our living room. (There is an airport close by, but we are adjusting to the noise.)

* Hero's "escape". (She managed to squeeze her way through a small hole in the screen door. Denny found her outside lounging on the front step in the sun as if she does it all the time).

* Turkish keyboards on our new school laptops. (Ş Ğ Ç Ö Ü ı i etc... it is a challenge!)

* Our washing machine. (We played with it for over 2 hours to figure out what the buttons did. We're still not completely sure...)

* General language issues. (Pronunciation of names, awkward translations e.g. "çamaşır suyu" translates to "laundry juice" [bleach!], and loooong Turkish language lessons in which Denny dozes off).

Although the language is tough, we have made some progress in learning survival phrases. Words/phrases we have used thus far are:

At Ikea - (Us) Question in Turkish: Çarşaf? (Sheets?)
(Employee) Answer in English: Under the floor. (He meant downstairs haha.)

Merhaba - Hello.
Teşeküler - Thanks.
Teşekkür ederim - Thank you.
Bir su istiyorum - I would like one water. ("please" is implied)
Daha fazla? - More?
Saat kaç? - What time is it?
Pirıinç - Rice
and of course...
Iki bira istiyorum - I would like 2 beers.

In summary, Istanbul is terrific so far. More to follow!


10 pairs of shoes.
9 known Turkish phrases.
8 magic erasers (Amanda's favourite cleaning tool).
7 travel books.
6 suitcases. (Yes, 6.)
5 pairs of flip flops.
4 suits (and many many ties).
3 voltage converters.
2 people.
1 cat.

Ready for adventure.